Home > Identity Theft > The Defense Question We Should Continue Debating: Cybersecurity

Comments 0 Comments

It doesn’t matter if they are state-sponsored or live in their parents’ basement. Hackers thrive in the shadows of our culture. Leaders hesitate to declare supremacy over them lest they get taught a very public lesson in humility. But, if a superpower uses those hackers to access a foreign government’s information, and that’s not an act of war, what next?

Jim Webb, a heavily decorated war veteran, tried to get his fellow presidential hopefuls to address that issue during the first Democratic debate Tuesday night on CNN. Unfortunately, he spent more time kvetching about how little time he was getting than pressing for his chosen topic—cybersecurity— which he correctly pegged as the biggest threat to national security.

In my forthcoming book on identity theft and data security Swiped, I talk about cybersecurity at the enterprise-organization level. Here is an adapted excerpt on why we need political leadership on this issue:

It is a stretch to assume our nation’s leaders should set the tone for how things are done in the rest of the country, but in an ideal world our leaders would…well, they would lead. That has hardly been the case in the cyber realm.

The lax approach to email security and data privacy that prevailed in both the Clinton and Bush campaigns are Exhibit A. Early in the 2016 cycle, Clinton’s “emailgate” created a firestorm after it was revealed that the former Secretary of State had used a homebrew email server instead of the policy-mandated servers of the State Department. The bigger affront was the assumption that her server was more secure than the government servers (though perhaps she was right since the State Department was hacked).

On the Republican side, Jeb Bush had his own email whoops moment. He was careless. He took a laissez-faire approach to a problem that requires constant attention, imagination, quick reactions and a kind of public-minded decision-making process that is constantly on the lookout for trouble and the best ways to avert it. In what Gov. Bush billed as a show of transparency—an obvious dig at the famously secretive Clinton camp—he released more than 250,000 emails amassed over the course of his tenure as governor. Some of the emails contained the personally identifiable information of constituents—including Social Security numbers. While the move did not pose a national security risk, or rise anywhere near the level of Clinton’s email problem, it demonstrated a poor understanding of data security and identity theft—or a nonexistent one.

The list of political leaders who just don’t quite get the whole “data security thing” is long. Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina famously said that data encryption was “hard” when accepting blame (or at least discussing blame) for a breach in her state that exposed the tax returns of 3.8 million tax-paying residents and 700,000 businesses, along with the Social Security numbers and bank accounts of not only the affected taxpayers, but nearly 2 million of their dependents. Or for another quick example, remember the hacker who accessed Mitt Romney’s personal email by guessing the name of his favorite pet? Bottom line, there is a tendency among our nation’s leaders to not only avoid the hard questions, but to remain blissfully, or even willfully, ignorant of how the most important data security issues relate to the kinds of identity-related crimes that damage the lives of the people they are supposed to serve and represent—that is, until they find themselves on the wrong side of their ignorance and members of the media take notice.

When it comes to data security, Rule Number One is that you don’t talk about how you manage your data security. Rule Number Two is that you don’t talk about the fact that you don’t talk about how you manage your data security. This leaves a lot of room for fudging how you do data security. In the realm of politics, these rules need to be slightly amended. It is crucial that our leaders demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the unique threat to national security posed by cyber threats.

That said, it is unfortunate— yet abundantly clear from the debates of both parties so far—that there is far greater voter appeal in things like Donald Trump’s Great Wall of Mexico than more (or at least equally) substantive issues like cybersecurity (or America’s lack thereof). But as Sen. Webb tried to point out in the first DNC debate, a firewall around our nation’s most sensitive information is much more important than the dog-and-pony-show issues being bandied about by most of the candidates.

When it comes to Hillary Clinton’s (admittedly) extremely bad idea to maintain a private server and use it for state business, I’m with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who told the former Secretary of State: “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!” But that’s because they don’t know why it matters. As Sen. Webb discovered, it truly is “hard” (to borrow Gov. Haley’s word) for a leader to explain such things when all the stars are aligned against such substantive discourse. And until America’s leaders acknowledge that the Cyber War has replaced the Cold War and fully appreciate the dangers of not making cybersecurity a front burner issue, it may not matter which server is the right server, because none will be.

The above is an adapted excerpt from Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves, which hits bookstores everywhere Black Friday.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team